He was lovable the way a child is lovable, and he was capable of returning love with a childlike purity. If love is nevertheless excluded from his work, it's because he never quite felt that he deserved to receive it. He was a lifelong prisoner on the island of himself. What looked like gentle contours from a distance were in fact sheer cliffs. Sometimes only a little of him was crazy, sometimes nearly all of him, but, as an adult, he was never entirely not crazy. What he'd seen of his id while trying to escape his island prison by way of drugs and alcohol, only to find himself even more imprisoned by addiction, seems never to have ceased to be corrosive of his belief in his lovability. Even after he got clean, even decades after his late-adolescent suicide attempt, even after his slow and heroic construction of a life for himself, he felt undeserving. And this feeling was intertwined, ultimately to the point of indistinguishability, with the thought of suicide, which was the one sure way out of his imprisonment; surer than addiction, surer than fiction, and surer, finally, than love.
…95 percent of political commentary, whether spoken or written, is now polluted by the very politics it’s supposed to be about. Meaning it’s become totally ideological and reductive: The writer/speaker has certain political convictions or affiliations, and proceeds to filter all reality and spin all assertion according to those convictions and loyalties. Everybody’s pissed off and exasperated and impervious to argument from any other side. Opposing viewpoints are not just incorrect but contemptible, corrupt, evil […] Political discourse is now a formulaic matter of preaching to one’s own choir and demonizing the opposition. Everything’s relentlessly black-and-whitened…. Since the truth is way, way more gray and complicated than any one ideology can capture, the whole thing seems to me not just stupid but stupefying… How can any of this possibly help me, the average citizen, deliberate about whom to choose to decide my country’s macroeconomic policy, or how even to conceive for myself what that policy’s outlines should be, or how to minimize the chances of North Korea nuking the DMZ and pulling us into a ghastly foreign war, or how to balance domestic security concerns with civil liberties? Questions like these are all massively complicated, and much of the complication is not sexy, and well over 90 percent of political commentary now simply abets the uncomplicatedly sexy delusion that one side is Right and Just and the other Wrong and Dangerous. Which is of course a pleasant delusion, in a way—as is the belief that every last person you’re in conflict with is an asshole—but it’s childish, and totally unconducive to hard thought, give and take, compromise, or the ability of grown-ups to function as any kind of community.
What has our culture lost in 1980 that the avant-garde had in 1890? Ebullience, idealism, confidence, the belief that there was plenty of territory to explore, and above all the sense that art, in the most disinterested and noble way, could find the necessary metaphors by which a radically changing culture could be explained to its inhabitants.
And then also, again, still, what are those boundaries, if they’re not baselines, that contain and direct its infinite expansion inward, that make tennis like chess on the run, beautiful and infinitely dense? The true opponent, the enfolding boundary, is the player himself. Always and only the self out there, on court, to be met, fought, brought to the table to hammer out terms. The competing boy on the net’s other side: he is not the foe: he is more the partner in the dance. He is the what is the word excuse or occasion for meeting the self. As you are his occasion. Tennis’s beauty’s infinite roots are self-competitive. You compete with your own limits to transcend the self in imagination and execution. Disappear inside the game: break through limits: transcend: improve: win. Which is why tennis is an essentially tragic enterprise… You seek to vanquish and transcend the limited self whose limits make the game possible in the first place. It is tragic and sad and chaotic and lovely. All life is the same, as citizens of the human State: the animating limits are within, to be killed and mourned, over and over again…Mario thinks hard again. He’s trying to think of how to articulate something like: But then is battling and vanquishing the self the same as destroying yourself? Is that like saying life is pro-death? … And then but so what’s the difference between tennis and suicide, life and death, the game and its own end?
The problem with making a virtual world of oneself is akin to the problem with projecting ourselves onto a cyberworld: there’s no end of virtual spaces in which to seek stimulation, but their very endlessness, the perpetual stimulation without satisfaction, becomes imprisoning.
Um um um um um. This business of—this business about marketing yourself, there’s nothing wrong with that. Unless we’re allowed to think that that’s—that that’s it. That that’s the point, that that’s the goal, you know? And that’s the reason we’re here—because that’s so empty. And you as a writer know that it’s—if you as a writer think that your job is to get as many people to like your stuff and think well of you as possible … And I could, we could both, name writers that it’s pretty obvious that’s their motivation? It kills the work. Each time. That that’s maybe 50 percent of it, but it misses all the magic. And it misses, it doesn’t let you be afraid. Or it doesn’t, like, let you like make yourself be, be vulnerable. Or … nah, see, I’m not … Anyway, anyway.
We who were not so pathologically far out on the spectrum of self-involvement, we dwellers of the visible spectrum who could imagine how it felt to go beyond violet but were not ourselves beyond it, could see that David was wrong not to believe in his lovability and could imagine the pain of not believing in it. How easy and natural love is if you are well! And how gruesomely difficult--what a philosophically daunting contraption of self-interest and self-delusion love appears to be--if you are not! And yet ... the difference between well and not well is in more respects a difference of degree than of kind. Even though David laughed at my much milder addictions and liked to tell me that I couldn't even conceive of how moderate I was, I can still extrapolate from these addictions, and from the secretiveness and solipsism and radical isolation and raw animal craving that accompany them, to the extremity of his. I can imagine the sick mental pathways by which suicide comes to seem like the one consciousness-quenching substance that nobody can take away from you.
David Foster Wallace: Because I'd like to be the sort of person who can enjoy things at the time instead of having to go back in my head and enjoy them then.
According to Wallace, the expectation that art amuses is a 'poisonous lesson for a would-be artist to grow up with,' since it places all of the power with the audience, sometimes breeding resentment on the part of the author. 'I can see it in myself and in other young writers,' he told McCaffery: 'this desperate desire to please coupled with a kind of hostility to the reader.' Wallace expressed his 'hostility' by writing unwieldy sentences, refusing to fulfill readers' expectations, and 'bludgeoning the reader with data'--all strategies he used to wrestle back some of the power held by modern audiences.
When David Markson wrote in June to complain about an author's getting an award he though should have been his, Wallace gently warned him away from the pitfall of envy: Mostly I try to remember how lucky I am to be able to write, and doubly, triply lucky I am that anyone else is willing to read it, to say nothing of publishing it. I'm no pollyanna - this keeping-the-spirits-up shit is hard work, and I don't often do it well. But I try... Life is good